Differential effect of histone H3.3 depletion on retroviral repression in embryonic stem cells

Ayellet Tal, Jose David Aguilera, Igor Bren, Carmit Strauss, Sharon Schlesinger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Integration of retroviruses into the host genome can impair the genomic and epigenomic integrity of the cell. As a defense mechanism, epigenetic modifications on the proviral DNA repress retroviral sequences in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESC). Here, we focus on the histone 3 variant H3.3, which is abundant in active transcription zones, as well as centromeres and heterochromatinized repeat elements, e.g., endogenous retroviruses (ERV). Results: To understand the involvement of H3.3 in the epigenetic silencing of retroviral sequences in ESC, we depleted the H3.3 genes in ESC and transduced the cells with GFP-labeled MLV pseudovirus. This led to altered retroviral repression and reduced Trim28 recruitment, which consequently led to a loss of heterochromatinization in proviral sequences. Interestingly, we show that H3.3 depletion has a differential effect depending on which of the two genes coding for H3.3, H3f3a or H3f3b, are knocked out. Depletion of H3f3a resulted in a transient upregulation of incoming retroviral expression and ERVs, while the depletion of H3f3b did not have the same effect and repression was maintained. However, the depletion of both genes resulted in a stable activation of the retroviral promoter. These findings suggest that H3.3 is important for regulating retroviral gene expression in mouse ESC and provide evidence for a distinct function of the two H3.3 genes in this regulation. Furthermore, we show that Trim28 is needed for depositing H3.3 in retroviral sequences, suggesting a functional interaction between Trim28 recruitment and H3.3 loading. Conclusions: Identifying the molecular mechanisms by which H3.3 and Trim28 interact and regulate retroviral gene expression could provide a deeper understanding of the fundamental processes involved in retroviral silencing and the general regulation of gene expression, thus providing new answers to a central question of stem cell biology.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number83
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Embryonic stem cells
  • Epigenetic silencing
  • H3.3
  • Retrovirus
  • Trim28
  • Turnover


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